Bread Starts Screwing the Environment Before It's a Loaf

Image: AP
Image: AP

Welcome to planet Earth, little wheat berry. I know, you didn’t ask to be brought into the world…no one did. But you should know that you started fucking the planet over just by being here.

Sure, it may seem like things will get worse when you grow up, what with all of the greenhouse gas emissions—from harvesting to transporting to baking—it’ll take to turn you into a loaf of bread. Those emissions are no joke. But some British scientists told me you’ve been a shit kid from the start.

Those scientists said that food production and consumption leads to around a third of our greenhouse gas emissions, so they too a look at bread to see where the real problems lie. By the time you grow up into an 800 gram (1.8 pound) loaf, the atmosphere will receive greenhouse gases equivalent to 0.388 kilograms (0.85 pounds) of CO2. Of that, 0.173 kg (0.4 pounds) of CO2 comes from the baking stage and another 0.028 kg (.06 lbs) from milling. But you and your friends will also emit the equivalent of 0.256 kg (0.56 lbs) of CO2 per loaf from fertilizer, the chemicals dumped on the ground just to make you grow.


Almost half of your total potential to cause global warming comes from fertilizer alone.

So really, it’s not your fault, but ours. We used ammonium nitrate to fertilize you, which releases the greenhouse gas N20, nitrous oxide, when it goes into the atmosphere. Some experts say N20 is 300 times as good at trapping heat as CO2, which means it is very bad.

And there’s no easy solution. Those scientists behind the new study, which is published this week in Nature Plants, think that we need to reduce the amount of fertilizer we use, but there wouldn’t be nearly as many of you without it. Producing ammonium nitrate more energy efficiently might offset some of the greenhouse gasses, but that seems unlikely.

Sure, maybe we could use fertilizer more carefully, only plots only where we wanted to raise you, rather than blanketing all of the soil with it. Maybe we can talk to other scientists about how to raise you a genetically-modified sibling that needs fewer climate-destroying chemicals to grow.


I know you’re scared about the damage you’ll do to the environment when you move to one of those big belching factories to get turned into flour. But, little wheat berry, this new study has convinced us the real problem is that you were born in the first place.

[Nature Plants]


Former Gizmodo physics writer and founder of Birdmodo, now a science communicator specializing in quantum computing and birds

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If it comes down to a ruined earth or a sandwich, then I’ll eat and watch the world burn.